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Silent voices

RJs in town say, ‘We’re not on a break’, look forward to getting back on air

For decades on end, they made you laugh, entertained you, quizzed you, even let you shower them with bouquets and brickbats. But now, they are silent. And the nation salutes their unanimous spirit in maintaining the solemn mood in the sultanate with dignified broadcasts during a period of national mourning.

Over the past few weeks, radio jockeys (RJs) at various radio stations in town have joined in respecting the national sentiments, as a sign of solidarity. While sincerely sharing the national grief, these RJs held back, not just their tears, but also their popular programmes which had helped them bond with millions of listeners over the years.

While radio buffs in the sultanate missed their daily dose of chit-chat banter (most of which is enjoyed while driving, rather than at home), the classical instrumental music and other educational programmes which replaced these, as a mark of respect, were also well-received. But many wondered when would these RJs be back on air.

With more time at their dispo-sal, since regular programmes were off air, most DJs have been spending time networking for their stations, getting involved in planning and production of new programmes, brushing up their individual repertoire and staying (mentally) connected with their audiences as this long-term bond cannot be shaken by sabbaticals.

My heart sank

“The famous saying goes that time flies, yet there was a night not long ago which felt as if time had stood still – as the whole nation took in one breath and held it anxiously awaiting the saddest news we had ever received as a people,” Talal al Shahri, the RJ of Oman FM based in Salalah, who had been handed the task of announcing the saddest news for Oman on air, told TheWeek.

“When I received a call to come into work in the middle of the night, my heart sank knowing that this did not bode well, but I still attempted to hope for the best. I was handed the statement alongside presenters from Arabic Radio & Television at 4am to announce to the world that our beloved leader HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said had passed after his long struggle with illness. As the shock seeped through me, I read the announcement on air as my colleagues wept in sorrow in the background.

“As more news came in, ending an era and bringing in a new one, the nation struggled between grief of losing the father of our country and awe at the smoothness of the transition of the reins of power to HM Sultan Haitham bin Tarik al Said.  It was a long day, not very different from the next 40 days to come as we processed and

continue to process our grief. We do have strong hope for the future and entrust it to our new leader and hope that we, as a people, will rise up to the task and together continue the late HM, Sultan Qaboos’s work.”

Talal further informed that with the hard work of the team at Oman FM, they  continued to broadcast talk shows, documentaries and many other non-musical programmes through the mourning period 24/7, and will continue to do so until the February 21, when jazz and classical music will be gradually introduced, before returning to regular programming on February 23, marking the end of the mourning period.

“Work goes on for all of us and we must strive to do more as a nation. As John F Kennedy once said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Talal said.

I couldn’t sleep

Veteran  RJ on Oman FM, Faiq al Mughairi, popularly known for his show Faiq on the Mic, who has been on leave since mid-December 2019 and wouldn’t be back till February 20, said it indeed was a sad day, not just for Oman but for the whole world to hear about the demise of such a great leader. He himself learnt about it from a TV channel when he woke up at 3am for a glass of water.

“I couldn’t sleep after that and I couldn’t believe it either, until a couple of hours later when I saw it on other new channels. I’m still trying to get over it, even now, and it’s going to take a long, long time before people get over it, too,” Faiq said.

He, however, agreed that a little extra effort will probably be nee-ded to renew the long-standing rapport with listeners of Oman FM who have always been diverse.

Unwelcome break

June Lewis, a popular voice on Oman FM for over three decades, and who has hosted umpteen programmes and innumerable fans in Oman, added, “It has been an unwelcome break, quite simply because of the heartbreaking reason behind it. Life goes on and so does work. We have been putting in regular hours, programming, scheduling, and tackling the many aspects that go into the running of a successful radio station. On air or off, there’s always something to be done, never a dull moment on ‘The nation’s station – Oman FM’!”

Not on a holiday

Robin Banks, content director and morning show presenter of Hi FM, said, “I got a phone call at 4.30am on February 11 and was completely in shock. I immediately made sure we had switched all Hi FM transmitters to take the local Oman Radio output as is the policy set to us by the Ministry of Information here. I remember then calling the team and telling them and each one being in shock. As the news broke in the middle

of the night we were not running live programmes, so no announcement was made prior to switching.”

Asked about plans to resume normal programming, Banks said, “We at Hi FM do exactly what we are told to do by the ministry here, and we do not deviate from that. We shall wait for the authorities to tell us when we go back. And, when we do go back, we will be the same as before – Oman’s Number 1 Hit Music Station. Yes, we probably will talk about the Late Sultan, the way his passing made international news and showed many, many people around the globe what a truly remarkable and humble man he was, but we will do this naturally and not with any set shows.”

About having more time on hand, Banks asserted, “Just because Hi FM was off doesn’t mean that we all got some kind of holiday. The entire team was still working, meeting with clients to discuss their needs, production work on the IDs and jingles so when we are back to normal we still sound fresh, prepared for a new software install for the radio station and other boring behind- the-scenes stuff. Even the classical music we are now running is different to any other stations here in Oman. We are mixing in modern songs done in a classical style with Mozart, Brahms and Tchaikovsky… no other station is doing that.”

He further disclosed that radio buffs in Muscat have commended their stand. “If you’re a regular listener to Hi FM you’ll know that we don’t take ourselves seriously at all. We are real people playing Oman’s hit music. And that’s why we are number one in the market. It’s simple, we will be playing Oman’s hit music with our not-so-normal presenters in between the songs.”

Working behind the scenes

Chris Fisher, programme director and presenter Radio Merge (104.8FM), said, “We were very saddened to hear the news which we received at 4.30am and immediately suspended programming switching to recitations of the Holy Q’uran and then instructed to take the audio output of Oman TV.  Now, as we are in the mourning period, regular programming remains suspended. However, we are in contact with the Ministry of Information on a regular basis and strictly follow their guidance and instruction.”

About using time on hand, Chris asserted, “To be honest, it’s not a personal break. On the work front we still have plenty of behind-the- scenes activities to attend to, from future programme planning, studio training for our new presenters to social media and overall brainstorming.

“I stayed here and  worked regular office duties, besides attending a workshop forum in Dubai last week.”

He also disclosed that Merge has already started airing audio tributes from listeners, locals and expatriates as well as highlighting achievements of the Late Sultan, which will continue even after resumption of regular programming. The station has also used this period to plan its Ramadan programming which will involve many areas of reflection and positivity for the future of Oman.